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My Organization

Hey y'all!This is a post that I've wanted to write for awhile -- it's also perhaps  my most highly demanded, from peers and readers. Ironically, my thoughts get rather messy on the subject. Being organized and productive is my greatest strength, but I don't always use consistent methods. Some years are more about blocking out my time; others are more about digitized versions of my schedule for always being on the run. This year, I've been a huge fan of anything longhand -- I have scraps and notes to myself pinned everywhere on my walls.By junior year, I have a lot better of a sense of what I prioritize, as well as how I function best. For example, I'm much more productive in the mornings than the afternoon, and cleaning my room always makes me get more done afterwards. A lot of my systems are ones that I've carried through most of college, but I've just been more forgiving to myself about switching it up if I need to.They vary from year to year, but here are a few of the ways I stay organized.

categorize your work

The first thing I do when I'm starting to realize I have a ton to do (i.e. when it's SUNDAY) is make a master list of everything I have to do. Sometimes I just write everything out in a big pile and divide into categories by color (circling itty bitty tasks that I can get done in five minutes -- I know that crossing a ton of those off the list will make me feel good and more likely to tackle the big things.)Most of the time, I like to block my to do list out graphically on the page. I put homework items in one section and blog items on the other. Personal/housekeeping tasks in another square. That way, I can skip between them at my leisure or decide completely that it's one type of day. It might just be an art day, not an essay day!This year, I found my favorite way to divide tasks. I make one column of "owed" work and one column of "non-owed" work. If I owe it to somebody -- an email, or an assignment with a due date, or a promise to a friend -- it becomes my first priority. Then, I go through and divide those categories into "fun" work and "non-fun" work.To start out my work, I do fun, owed work. These are like commissions, or projects I'm passionate about, or schoolwork that I like. Then I get rid of the weight hanging over my head and I don't have that terrible feeling of putting something off. Then, if I'm up to it, I do non-fun, owed work. Something tedious and kind of miserable. If I can't bring myself to do work that I don't care about, I do fun, non-owed work, like non-commissioned art or blogging. It balances out pretty well because I get a ton done at any given time and don't feel bad if I'm running behind, but then I'm not forcing myself to be a machine if I need a day.

color-code, and split up your binders.

As a preface, I'm so much better when I write everything out rather than type it. Most of my blog posts are originally on loose-leaf, and my best papers are written that way too. I think better on paper. This year, I've really taken that to heart.My next system has to do with my binders, and my planners, so I'll tackle one at a time.This year for school, I'm using an "everything" binder à la fourth grade. I've always done that as a way to get organized for exams, because then I know I have all the content of a class in one spot and go through to highlight concepts I need to work on. But I'd never done that for the school year as a whole until now, and I love it so much!I have all my class notes and a pencil pouch in there, as well as my to-do list for a given week. I carry around that, my planner, and my journal to class. I wasn't sure if I'd like it because previously I just kept everything in the same notebook, but I got sick of rifling through papers to find my notes because I was bad at keeping it chronological. The binder has done WONDERS for me and my schoolwork.At home, I keep a WLS binder, which has all my longhand blog posts, keys, deadlines, etc,. I have lists of brands I'm working with on Instagram, books coming out in a given month, notes on site maintenance, etc,. I haven't delved too much into the binder this fall since I've scheduled most of my posts ahead, but I like having a matrix of my style, lists of inspiration I could draw from for post ideas, etc,. Also, I can visually tell if a month is full on the blog or if I need to add some more content.As an example, I would categorize a blog post for a brand as fun, owed work. I'd categorize making a mood board for a book I didn't receive from a publishing house as fun, non-owed work. I'd categorize updating softwares as non-fun, non-owed work.It makes me so giddy when I'm done with the school binder and can dive into the WLS binder. It makes it feel like such a treat.As for planners, I'm the same way, but it might require a little more explanation.If I didn't have a massive paper agenda, I would probably lose my ability to function as a human being. While I've hopped between brands over the years, I always need the biggest size possible in an agenda. I need monthly and weekly pages, because I'm a margins scribbler who wants to be able to see everything laid out. I layer with post-its and white out, and sometimes even sheets of printer paper taped over old pages. Give me a glue stick and I'm golden. For the past two years, I've saved up for a Kate Spade jumbo planner -- on the pricey side, but so worth it. I like the cleanness of their layouts. I've looked at Rifle Paper Co. but their lines on their weekly pages are too narrow for me, and I'm picky.On my monthly pages, I write out any events or due dates and then color code them.

Purple is employment. Commissions, my work-study, freelance editing.Orange is social. Any cocktails, lunches, date nights. Fun.Green is exercise. The mile counts in my planner are from my training for my half marathon, in pencil, so I didn't highlight them. Sometimes it counts for wellness too if I have a busy week and I'm not dedicating enough time to myself.Yellow is extracurricular. Clubs, student government, miscellaneous meetings.Pink is WLS! Blog posts going up, writing events, etc,.Blue is important. Registration, classes, career-related. Anything that's HUGE.

I also do this within my weekly pages, which helps me when I have a ton of scribbles in a given week and can't keep straight what I'm supposed to focus on. Writing and rewriting it out constantly.It's tough to find a clean page because throughout the week, I definitively destroy anything I've already done in my planner. The most satisfying feeling! I list everything on a given day, sometimes with little notes to myself (example: NyQuil?) Sometimes, I'll list my priorities in the margins for a given week. Like, this week is about working ahead on big final projects, and making art to sell at a stand this weekend.Meanwhile, my WLS planner is much more chill, if you can even call anything I do that. There's only one color (yellow) and it stands for posts I've already scheduled. Although everything except for blog posts makes it into my "real" planner, this is where my fun work lives. I like being able to visually see how many posts I have in a given week or month, and whether or not I'm hitting certain days. I have book releases written out so I know when to coordinate publicity, and notes about when to reach out to certain houses about titles coming up. I also have lists of content I'd like to write, goals, etc,. And plenty of arrows when I rearrange what goes up when. It's not as chaotic as the other one, but it's not as put together either. And as with the binder, I get a certain thrill when I pull it out and get to do blog work!

Aim for a full day.

In previous years, I was much more ruthless with myself about getting work done no matter what. I threw myself into activities, didn't give a damn about how much sleep I got, and holed myself up away from other people to work. This summer, I thought a lot about when I was happiest. I thought about how much I thrive at camp, and why. I started keeping track of which days were the best, and usually they were when I felt like I had a full day, with a lot of different categories involved in them. At my core, I see myself as being a self-propelled person. Most of what I do is entirely independent of any other organization or structure. But this has helped in keeping myself on track.Do something non-fun and owed right away, so that I get the ball rolling and don't allow stress to chip away at me. But don't kill myself doing that; get outside. Spend some time with friends. Make sure that when I go to bed, I'm actually committed to sleeping. By making these all feel like necessities instead of luxuries, I've been way happier and feeling like a way more productive human being.For one, I used to always do everything in huge chunks. I still have categorized days -- blog days, or essay days -- but I've gotten a lot better about spending thirty minutes here and thirty minutes there, because I know I want a day full of other things.It also gets rid of that guilty feeling I have whenever I relax. I've gotten way more peaceful about seeing "nothing" days or "non-productive" days as necessary to the ones that are. I've been listening to my body more, and taking better care of myself.Also, I've gotten better about not forcing it. If I'm really DREADING the thought of doing this essay, I won't. I have plenty of other things I could be doing to be productive, some of which will sound fun to me. So I'll do them when I'm in the mood to do them, and trust that I will have a day when I'm in the mood to write. This week, I have an essay due, prints to make, etc,. But I feel like writing a blog post, so I'm going to.


wake up sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 (depends on the day of the week)check and respond to emails and Instagram questionsget dressed and ready for the day (blast music, put on a dress -- it helps)fry an egg, make some coffee if I need it, take my inhalers/medicineswalk to class or a meeting!class/meetingsget lunch, relaxget some immediate to-do items donedo reading and homework while it's quiettake pictures or write when I need a breakgo for a run during the golden hourevening meetingsdinnerfinish up any homework I haven't donespend time with people I love

I need to get better about making work time more focused in the afternoons so that I have more time to get outside and to work on WLS stuff. But I'm usually pretty worthless in the early afternoon because I'm tired and so my work pace drops drastically. By evening, or after a run, I'm recharged and ready to go.I've also been trying to be in bed by 10:30 most nights, but towards the end of the semester, as it naturally gets more chaotic, it's looked more like midnight.


Aside from that, I'm a huge fan of Google Drive to store schedules and spreadsheets and papers, as well as my phone notes for lots of errant thoughts. I need to be better about compiling those at the end of the week, but normally I just jot those down in my planner when I see them later.

How do y'all keep up with everything?

Girl vs. Kindle

I hate myself. I really do. This is my most loathsome purchase and I am an absolute hypocrite for giving in.What did I do?Although it's obvious from the title, some backstory:I hate Amazon. I try to avoid it; I use independent retailers when possible, or other online stores with shipping when possible. I constantly point people to its hateful workplace culture, and its constant battle with book publishers. I have successfully avoided Amazon for ages. Although I am a poor college student, I have resisted putting Amazon affiliate links onto my site because I decided that I'd rather support indie at the moment while I can.I won't deny that it's a helpful company to many -- when two-day shipping calls, let it be. But I personally do not have to buy into it, because I'm lucky and stubborn. Whenever I get deep in my I-hate-Amazon feels, I remind myself that they are the reason for most of the hardships of the book industry. Also, Publishers Weekly has often reminded us that print sales are not in fact going under the way that they used to.But I bought a Kindle.It was on sale, and my eyesight is rapidly going downhill (probably because of how much time I spend on the computer writing blog posts), and my boyfriend is an Amazon fiend who wore me down, and I'm constantly reading on my phone, and my family already owns so many eBooks, and...

I can read manuscripts directly, and mail PDF documents to it.I can carry it around easily as opposed to dragging my eighteen paperbacks with me.I can get books from the library, and access the books my family already owns.It'll be helpful to my eyesight (and my battery life) rather than reading on my phone.

So here I am, justifying it, and providing some alternatives for those of you who haven't quite made the leap (or would like to simply continue supporting other sources.)

1. You can support independent booksellers through a different eReader.

Whaaaaat? Okay, so, you can buy books through your favorite independent bookstores and not support Amazon! Kobo allows you to purchase eBooks from great, local retailers. I've also heard good things about Barnes & Noble's Nook. If you haven't already invested in a library of Kindle books, I highly recommend doing your research and finding an eReader you like from a different retailer.

2. A pair of blue light glasses can do you a whole lot of good.

I have a pair that was approximately $20, and I wear them all the time -- probably too much. These are eyeglasses that aren't prescription, but filter the blue light from screens as you work on them. It makes the strain of looking at devices a lot less catastrophic. My friends at school have started wearing them too, both because they look kind of funky-cool and also because we realized that our generation's eyesight is going to suck. This way, you can still read on your phone but not ruin your eyes!

3. At the very least, never buy an eBook from Amazon.

I never use my library for print books. I never did as a kid either. But the ONE reason I continually update my library card when it expires is that you can check out eBooks, no matter where you are. Although I live in Virginia for most of the year, I use my Hillsborough County library card to check out books from Overdrive. I cannot remember the last time I paid for an eBook.On that note, there's SO much book pirating these days, which does the book industry (publishers AND authors) a huge disservice. If you love the book but don't support the author, they may not be able to write a sequel, or their next book. The amount of times I see "[insert book title] free pdf" in my search terms is truly disheartening. Check out your library. Or ask around to see if a friend can lend you their eBook copy. Libraries count as sales!Check out eBooks from your library. It is revolutionary, my friend.

Do you have a Kindle? How do you try to support indie?

Reading Taste, Redefined.

Hey y'all!Grace here, typing away in my pajamas and fighting some yawns. While I should be sleeping and gearing up for the next days, I've spent the past hour or so stalking my own blog (oops) and trying to pinpoint my taste.In some ways, my taste has remained the same it's always been: primarily focused on the writing, appreciative of literary risk, but with a backbone of any character and story that's vivid. That sounds pretty simple, right? Just the mark of a good book in general. The specifics of what that means though have changed.I don't know whether I can point definitively to these genres as encapsulating the taste I've developed for myself over the years but, at the very least, these are genres that have captivated me in recent years -- and will likely continue to as I read more.I would like this  to count as my formal request to bring back paranormal releases. Over winter break, I was trying to read finale books because I am the worst person ever in trilogies -- bring back trilogies too, publishing industry! -- and my heart was racing. I forgot how exhilarating it is to read urban fantasy.While I enjoy high fantasy if done well, here's a confession: I find a lot of it to be incredibly similar and therefore boring to me. Like, at a certain point, the Grisha books and Throne of Glass and all blurred together. Also, I thought Red Queen wasn't good and so I hate all the hype surrounding it. (That's a rant for another time -- I think it's way too derivative of other books and nothing about it stands out to me.)Don't get me wrong. I can dig a solid fantasy. But there's nothing quite like the seamless integration of action and fable with everyday life. I love the sensation that it could all be just out there, waiting for you.There's a reason contemporary books are so popular. Still, contemporary fiction can be a wishy-washy label. We actually had this debate in my Modern American Fiction class a week or two ago but what's involved in contemporary fiction? Literary fiction? "Narrative realism" might be a more apt term, but even that doesn't capture the nuances of what I prefer within that. So in this case, I rely on subgenres. I'm a big fan of beach reads. I love anything lyrical -- like I said, I'm a writing-oriented gal. I'm not a big fan of harsh or unnecessarily pessimistic fiction, or instalove. Not a big fan of anything that feels like it has a template. But I love romance, I love coming-of-ages with deep thinkers, and I love specific detail pairings that paint vivid pictures. If that doesn't quite make sense, think Nina LaCour, Morgan Matson, Melina Marchetta, Lauren Oliver...Also, this doesn't even just include "narrative realism." I mean books like A Study in Charlotte too that I hesitate to categorize as straight mystery. Elements that I could recognize in my own life, wrapped up in cinematic and engaging details.As I've mentioned before, 2017 was a huge year for me in terms of expanding my reading taste. I'm still bigger on fiction than nonfiction, but if I'm going to read anything, it'll be pop-sci. I've done a lot of research on this as a genre because I'm working on a project about it for my Scientist As National Hero history class (!!!) and pop-sci describes essentially when scientists write about esoteric topics for the broader public. I love reading about physics, astronomy, and the philosophical implications of both those subjects -- but I can't actually read raw research about it because a lot of the jargon goes over my head. I love studying science through different lenses. I'm obsessed with books by folks like Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson.While describing my reading taste to a friend last year, I realized that I had just regurgitated the straight definition for magical realism. I love the amount of risk and absurdity that comes with it, the toeing of that ethereal line. I feel like magical realism is one of the hardest genres to write well, which is why they always impress me. The subtlety and thematic undertones kill me, and normally they have that poetic flair that lets me savor my reads for ages. Plus, I love writing that incorporates synesthesia, and magical realism is prime for that. While I'm significantly pickier about magical realism books, ones that I take to almost immediately jump to the top of my favorites list.Although there are other genres that fall into my favorites, I thought I'd briefly tackle some of my go-to "types" of reads to give y'all a picture of what's evolved and what's stayed the same over the past seven years of Words Like Silver. More examples to come soon, I'm sure, but here's the gist of it.

What type of books have y'all been into lately?

discussionsGrace Comment
To Goodreads or Not to Goodreads?

Hey y'all!It's session break (my July campers left today) which means I have a small window in which to do all the work I've wanted to over the past few weeks when I've been busy. I have a rather lengthy to-do list. I want to write some reviews, hit my word count, fill out some necessary forms, research some student government considerations, and (drum roll) revamp my Goodreads.The other week, I was considering the ways in which I've slipped from the habits I used to have a few years ago within book world. I was definitely more familiar with the intricacies of how it all worked, and kept my ear to the ground about upcoming titles.One of the most unfortunate parts of college has been looking up and realizing that I have no idea what's going on in my industry of choice in regards to upcoming titles. I always have a few that I have my eye on, and my lack of foresight about releases has allowed me to expand my reading taste quite a lot. But I'd still like to get back into it.Some of this is related to my blog goals for the year: go to more book events since I'll have a car at school this year, re-establish contact with book folks I've lost touch with during my freshman year, carve out more time to read new releases, etc,. (A lengthy list which I will get to later in the week.)Starting with the first one: Goodreads.

I have a love-hate relationship with Goodreads, although it makes up the backbone of a lot of the book industry. For those of you who have never interacted with it before, it's the go-to source for information about publication dates, quotes, ratings, and reviews. I have a ton of issues with it, both as an interface and as a person. I don't like that the forums get so snappy. I always forget to update it. And frankly, the lack of information I have on my Goodreads is so egregious that the thought of overhauling it is overwhelming. (I suppose I could use Edelweiss, but Goodreads feels more interactive.)Today's that day though. I deleted my shelves. I updated my bio and did a little cleaning. I don't think I'll ever be close to actually transferring books I've read from my website pages to my Goodreads "read" shelf, but I'm making a conscious effort. So I have a few goals, ideas, and questions to pose to y'all.1. How many shelves should I make?So far, I've determined a few and their descriptors.

  • Favorites -- need I say more?
  • Canon -- books that seem to sum up certain moods so fully that they feel like part of the canon to get the full reading/YA experience. They in some way hit a sector of the book sphere that hasn't been captured before.
  • Existential -- books that make me think. Books that perhaps make me hyperaware of my skin and personhood.
  • Escapism -- books I read when I want to immerse myself in a story and forget I'm a real person.
  • Seasonal -- books that I read at certain parts of the year. Summer books, winter books, fall books, etc,.

Does that sound like a good summation of my reading habits and taste? Should I add other shelves -- like a humor shelf and an upcoming release shelf? I suppose my question is: do you use your Goodreads shelves to keep you organized or to describe your taste?2. What reviews should I put up, and in what format?At the beginning of the year, I vowed to update my Goodreads review bank more often; I have since then gotten distracted and neglected to do so. Part of my Goodreads makeover today involves putting up some reviews that I haven't put up yet. Also, do you prefer the full review to be on Goodreads or are you okay with an excerpt of the review and a link to the blog?3. What Goodreads habits are most effective for you?Do you organize a little every day? Do you do it all at once? This is a question directed to both bloggers and readers because I'm dreadfully curious. I still don't think I'll be an avid Goodreads user because I focus on different aspects of the book community, but I would like to get a little more into it.4. What parts of Goodreads do you use the most?Quotes, shelves, forums? What should I hunt down? How should I convey what I read and who I am through my profile? Plenty of the information available through Goodreads is discoverable on parts of my site, social media, accounts, etc,. So I'm curious as to what the niche is that Goodreads will fill for Words Like Silver.In summation, I would like to be a Goodreads person although I always neglect it. How important is Goodreads in your reading, if at all? Do you have any suggestions?

The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Dombek

I’ve been reading a lot of big ideas lately.Especially in determining which majors I’ll go into next year, I’m curious about a lot of different areas: philosophy, religion, psychology, physics (although I’m terrible at math and therefore could never make it a career), art history, etc,. It’s a lovely yet cruel issue of being wholeheartedly interested in a lot of different areas and feeling the pressure of somehow whittling that down into something meaningful to study.Especially as I approach the upcoming year, I’ve largely determined which areas I can presumably study effectively without burning out, versus which ones I’ll just have to cram into books, articles, and documentaries I consume on the side.Plus, these books are just enjoyable.This summer, I’ve managed to find some excellent reads at well-curated independent bookstores. (Support your local indie, y’all.) Although I’ve stumbled upon good picks in Barnes & Nobles – and detest Amazon bookselling – I find that smaller places tend to give me a better sense about what will align with my personal taste.I’ve debated reviewing them, after finishing. But it’s been difficult for me to assess them on any literary scale. I know which ones make my mind buzz and which ones quiet me, and I’m incapable of determining whether one of those has more merit than the other. I still would love to feature them on the blog, however, so I wanted to in some way incorporate that.I occasionally obsess over existential crises and personal musings on a tucked-away writing blog, and so I thought I might try something similar on here. Taking a topic, a line, and writing my reflections on it rather than trying to craft an assessment on the book itself. Without further ado, here’s my first.Baby Brain Pickings, anyone? GOALS.

The Book

Novel: The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Dombek | GoodreadsRelease Date: September 12, 2016Publisher: Faber and Faber Inc.Format: PaperbackSource: Bought

They're among us, but they are not like us. They manipulate, lie, cheat, and steal. They are irresistibly charming and accomplished, appearing to live in a radiance beyond what we are capable of. But narcissists are empty. No one knows exactly what everyone else is full of--some kind of a soul, or personhood--but whatever it is, experts agree that narcissists do not have it.So goes the popular understanding of narcissism, or NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). And it's more prevalent than ever, according to recent articles in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Time. In bestsellers like The Narcissism Epidemic, Narcissists Exposed, and The Narcissist Next Door, pop psychologists have armed the normal with tools to identify and combat the vampiric influence of this rising population, while on websites like, thousands of people congregate to swap horror stories about relationships with "narcs."In The Selfishness of Others, the essayist Kristin Dombek provides a clear-sighted account of how a rare clinical diagnosis became a fluid cultural phenomenon, a repository for our deepest fears about love, friendship, and family. She cuts through hysteria in search of the razor-thin line between pathology and common selfishness, writing with robust skepticism toward the prophets of NPD and genuine empathy for those who see themselves as its victims. And finally, she shares her own story in a candid effort to find a path away from the cycle of fear and blame and toward a more forgiving and rewarding life.

First, I’ll start by analyzing the book itself. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from this tidy little novella (essay, technically.) In some ways, it was more academic than I’d originally assumed it would be; it’s stock-full of references, dates, and some jargon that went straight over my head.It’s one of those books that, after finishing it, I’m not entirely sure whether or not I liked. That’s not to say it wasn’t valuable for me to read. It definitely was. I love the feeling of looking up wherever I am – my bedroom, a couch, (in this book’s case) a crowded coffeeshop – and suddenly feeling a surge of dizzying clarity. In this case, I looked at the people around me and wondered about our intersections. Not in the way On Love made me feel (like it’s all random and disjointed and somewhat made of luck that in no way diminishes its value) but in another way that questioned our own self-centeredness or lack thereof.I’ll tackle some of those specific questions and realizations below, but The Selfishness of Others is a book that definitely provokes a reaction. So because I’m a person who just wants books that make me feel something or expand my mind, I enjoyed it as a whole.In other ways, it’s shockingly personable and literary, especially towards the end. The author weaves in snippets of her personal reflections that sometimes wryly reflect her views on the subjects at hand. At times, this could get a little overt, but I still enjoyed them for the most part.I only have two particular critiques:

  • For one, parts of the essay felt sloppy. References felt rushed and overly esoteric. Because I’m not a psychology student at the moment, I wished she would have taken the time to slow down and refocus. It could have used some clarity.
  • The literary ramblings were fun, but not entirely consistent. Some parts of the essay read like they’re taken from scholarship, while others are almost entirely personal. I do love books that are kind of mismatched – like The Unbearable Lightness of Being – but I wish that had felt more balanced.

Despite those problems, which were honestly pretty minimal, the book itself is an appealing thought wormhole of sorts. If that’s your kind of thing, I’d recommend. One of my favorite books, Franny and Zooey, covers similar questions. Is any act of goodness or kindness truly selfless, if you get a rush of satisfaction upon its completion? Because of that impossibility, can earnest philanthropy actually exist? What’s the balance between self-knowledge and self-obsession?Without further ado, here are some lines and ideas that got to me, and what I took away from it all.

The Ideas/Lines

I’m going to divide these into questions and concepts I mulled over while reading, not the individual section headers.Is it a paradox that has no solution?By obsessing over whether or not you are a narcissist, do you in fact become one? By diagnosing those around you with narcissism, does that mean you’re a narcissist because of false ideals of superiority and authority?It’s really easy to blame everyone else for everything by saying we live in a selfish culture. (That’s one of my pet peeves: “Social media is just because everyone’s obsessed with themselves. Everyone’s shallow.”)But by preaching something like that – saying that everyone else “acts” a certain way – does that mean you see yourself as above the law, or being morally superior in any way? How is that not the same thing?The Selfishness of Others first explores the claim and then rebukes it with an example from one of the narcissists detailed in an earlier chapter. She claims that all of this is because our generation cares more; they’re more concerned with people they’ve never met.

“It’s easier to talk about the inappropriately grandiose dreams of the young – to go to college, to get promoted – as narcissistic than to talk about the various reasons why these average dreams will be thwarted.”

This section also talked about low-income groups, the American dream, and why “materialistic” culture is more likely due to the difficulty of economic prosperity in this day and age.How do you construct your identity?This book both illustrates extreme claims (like mass murderers) and smaller examples (like romantic partners who cheat.) One of the lines I underlined – after a particularly in-depth case study – was that even in these examples, “the moment you begin to find that [the other person] lacks empathy – when you find him inhuman – is a moment when you can’t feel empathy, either.”The Selfishness of Others also really helpfully describes the concept of “splitting,” a habit responsible for a lot of the terror we see in the modern world. The edge of the familiar, the bifurcation of the outside world into us vs. them. Fascinating.

In an essay called “Empathy for the Devil,” philosopher Adam Morton claims that “when we are struggling to understand the actions of someone who has done something wrong, it is seeing ourselves as humane…that most limits the accuracy of our empathy.”

So the debate about whether or not true narcissism exists never fully reaches a conclusion. Instead, it offers both sides and leaves you to figure out the rest. As it states, “we are who we are in relation to others, to groups, to culture.”I love this idea, particularly because a lot of the books like this I read are to foster more of a sense of identity. Who am I? How do I compare to others? How much of identity is something I can change?What’s the balance between self-sufficiency and dependency on others?

“In a 1979 critique of Freud’s ‘On Narcissism,” Girard suggests that what Freud diagnosed was not a kind of personality at all, not something people are or have, but the ordinary dynamic of all desire. We’re all performing self-sufficiency the best we can…such dependence on others is our fundamental, existential state.”

I try often to be independent, to love the feeling of being alone. I love to go to movies by myself; my default state to recharge is sitting by myself in a beautiful place, engrossed in whichever project I’ve deemed most worthy. But still, there’s a part of me that always longs to connect with others deeply and earnestly. So am I as self-sufficient as I like to believe?She also brings this up in relation to others, in the sections “The Bad Boyfriend” and “The Artist.”

“Only one person can be the center of another person’s world at any given time, and ideally, this would always be you. This is where all the narcissistic romance websites invite you to be: in the center of the world, stuck in time, assessing the moral status of others, until love is gone.”

At this point in the essay, it feels like a circle with no solution.So what can we do?Towards the end of The Selfishness of Others, the essay explores the idea of mirror neurons, and empathetic accuracy. As it states, “the problem may be that people can be very good at assessing the mental states of others without being conscious of sharing those states.” Is awareness of sharing those mental states what motivates compassion? (According to a cognitive scientist at NYU cited in the book, yes.)

“Just because we’re made of sharing doesn’t mean our understanding of others, often unconscious, leads us to care about them or treat them well.”

As Morton and Dombek both claim, “the way protecting our image as a moral person can keep us from being exactly who we want to be – good at understanding the world and others, at preventing atrocities, at helping people to heal and change.”In summationThis essay kind of drove me crazy, but in a good way. I went down this rabbit hole of taking narcissistic personality inventories and personality tests, trying to figure out whether my existential musings mean that I’m, in fact, a narcissist. How much of the world’s spin can you put on other people? How much do you assume for yourself?I’m not sure what I think about all of this, but it’s valuable. If only for that checkbox, that step back, that evaluation of how I interact with others and what this all could mean in the end. I’m glad I read it, even though I disagreed with some narrative choices. And I did, truly, think it could be a lot clearer, even sorting through it in hindsight.Questions for y’all

  • If I were to turn this into a “book club” of sorts – embedded a chat room, or prodded discussion in the comments, or even just hosted a read-along for similar books and essays – would y’all be interested?
  • Should I have just reviewed it, or do you like the discussion?
  • What topics would you like to see covered in these features?

What do y’all think?